You cannot ask for much more. Tremendous racing conditions with a building Mistral and a lumpy sea, made worse by the constant attention of the spectator fleet. Porto Cervo laid it on thick and the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds 2009 delivered. None more so than the new World Champions Barking Mad (USA) and runners up, Nerone (ITA).
Two races were sailed in winds from the northwest that gusted to the mid-twenties and stretched the already tired crews on the last day of competition. The scene was fit for a Championship finale and the two leading contenders made sure the curtain did not fall on the regatta without a flourish from those on stage. Nerone put her marker down to win the first race of the day and set up a winner takes all, second and final race – the tenth in this intensely fought series. Mascalzone Latino, the three times World Champions won the race, but the all-too significant result was Jim Richardson and Barking Mad crossing the line ahead of Massimo Mezzaroma's Nerone to secure the title for a third time. The first time an American boat has won outside of their home waters.
The day was all about who would cope best with the pressure. Without question both the two leading teams wanted the win desperately. Even Joe Fly (ITA) – runners-up in 2008 – could not be discounted. A sixteen-point gap to the front could easily be bridged if those ahead failed to keep their heads to the end.
Nerone went out all guns blazing. Once again she took the left side of the course popping out from the pin; tactician Vasco Vascotto relying on his vast experience in these waters to take the initiative early, “I've sailed here for twenty years and usually with these kind of conditions you need to go left.” He could not have been more right. First to the windward mark, Nerone led around the track to win from Giovanni Maspero's Joe Fly and Helmut Jahn's Flash Gordon (USA). Barking Mad, meanwhile, had opted for the centre and according to Richardson, things did not go as well as intended, “the first race today we probably started a little too conservatively and got in a bad spot, in too close to another boat. We had to do a clearing tack, and then got tacked on a few times, and we were deep for a while .”
These are the moments that championships are won and lost. Rounding the top mark mid-fleet, the American crew may have briefly wondered if this was the regatta slipping away from them.
But Richardson and crew had a game plan and were not about to give up on it just yet, as Hutchinson chips in, “without question we felt we could win going into the start of the week. But feeling it and doing it are two completely different things. When we lined up on the first day we had a mode that we have not had in a while. We had a game plan of being safe and the mantra all week on the boat was that we just want to get on base, we didn't want to hit any home runs, just keep getting on base and advancing the runners.” To get back 'on base' in this race was going to take some effort.
If doubts were creeping-in none were shown. “We showed a lot of fortitude to sail back through the fleet to finish sixth which kept us one point in the lead,” said a relieved Richardson.
The minds of both crews must have been buzzing heading to the start of the final deciding race and Mezzaroma takes up the story, “for the last race we were one point behind and the game was who came home in front would win the Worlds. It rarely happens in sailing and after nine races with 250 points that you could gain or lose, just one point between us was very exciting.”
Again, it was all down to keeping one's head and applying the game plan. Nerone headed left once more. Mezzaroma confirmed their strategy did not change because of their relative position to the leader, “we were one point behind and were not in a position to control them. So we had to make our own race.” On Barking Mad, the lure of the left was not so strong. This was a conservative crew after all.
According to Richardson, immediately before the start, “we just looked at each other and said this is why we're here. We're here for an opportunity to win the regatta on the last race. What more could you want.” Any self-doubts were kept private, though post-race Richardson confessed to some troubled thoughts, “I never doubted my team's capability. But leading wire-to-wire puts a little bit of extra pressure on each and every race. In 1999, we led going into the last race and ended up third, so that was in the back of my mind. I felt pretty comfortable that we were going to be able to get a good start in the race and get around the course in good shape. We certainly weren't giving up. We knew we had our hands full, but we knew we had to sail well and that is what we did.”
As the initial beat unwound, the crew of Barking Mad found themselves in second place, hot on the heels of Alessandro Barnaba's Fiamma (ITA) and overtaking them at the offset mark with a textbook spinnaker hoist. Those watching the racing started counting back to Nerone. The left had clearly not paid. In fact, it had bitten the Italian crew hard. The miraculous recovery of the previous day that kept them in the hunt was going to have to be repeated. That was a Herculian task. Barking Mad were not sailing as though their lives depended on it, they did not need to. They just needed to keep between Nerone and the finish, as Hutchinson explained, “the team responded brilliantly. We got a great start. We got a little break from Plenty, who let us tack across them. From there it was into a good lead and extend. Fortunately Nerone was back. They gained on us on the second beat, but we were safe down at the bottom mark. At that point it was about mi nimising damage and sailing a good clean race through to the finish.”
With Barking Mad home and dry in second, the finish of Nerone was immaterial, although eighth was good enough to hold onto the runner's-up position overall.
A feature of the Farr 40 fleet is the friendly rivalry between crews on and off the water. Vascotto and Hutchinson have been adversaries for many years, but they found time to speak this morning before heading onto the course, as Hutchinson remarks, “I saw Vasco this morning and we chatted for a couple of minutes. Nobody was around and it was a nice time to talk.” And, it is evident that the competitors hold each other in a regard rarely seen in other sports. “Sailing against somebody like Vasco makes you a better sailor and we hold the highest respect for that team,” he adds.
Both Hutchinson and Richardson knew they had been engaged in a battle royal. When they last won in San Francisco it was by 40-points. Mezzaroma echoed the quality of the contest, “it was a great competition sailing against all these good crews, these good boats. It is the key of the Farr 40. The level is always so high, it becomes higher and higher every year.” Vascotto, too, was gracious in defeat, “I think we did a fantastic championship: three firsts, two seconds, two eighths – usually you win with these kind of results! This time we found in front of us Barking Mad, sailed in a perfect way. We tried our best, but this is sport.”
For Richardson, it is a dream come true, “We're very, very happy. Coming to Italy and winning this World Championship in Porto Cervo is an amazing feeling for us. There are so many good teams out there, particularly the Italians and to be able to win in their home waters is a great thrill for us.
We tried to stay calm all week. It's easy to get too wound up and too hyped up. Our basic philosophy throughout the regatta was not to take chances, or take risks. If necessary we ducked boats rather than try to force an issue. Our point-score is a tribute to how well we sailed the boat, without taking any risks. Our worst race was a sixth and that is pretty good.” He is not kidding, no previous winner of the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds has averaged less than four points for the Championship. As Vascotto pointed out, even Nerone's score would have won in all previous years.
For Vincenzo Onorato, the outgoing, three-time (in a row) World Champion, who laughingly remarked that his last race this year was the first race of his 2010 Rolex Farr 40 Worlds campaign, this was “a wonderful story for the Class.”
After four days of competition, played out in an exceptional venue, we'll allow the winners to sum it up: “there's nothing better than this, that's for sure!”
PROVISIONAL STANDINGS AFTER 10 RACES
Place, Boat Name, Owner, Nation, R1-R2-R3-R4-R5-R6-R7-R8-R9-R10-Points
1. BARKING MAD Jim Richardson USA, 1-6-4-1-6-6-3-3-6-2-38.00
2. NERONE Massimo Mezzaroma ITA, 5-1-13-2-4-2-1-8-1-8-45.00
3. JOE FLY Giovanni Maspero ITA, 4-5-5-4-1-19-2-6-2-5-53.00
4. MASCALZONE LATINO Vincenzo Onorato ITA, 2-10-2-9-8-1-13-13-7-1-66.00
5. FLASH GORDON Helmut Jahn USA, 20-4-3-11-11-20-4-2-3-3-81.00
6. PLENTY Alex Roepers USA, 12,13,19,13,10,4,15-5-4-7-102.00
7. TWINS Erik Maris FRA, 14-8-15-14-5-5-6-18-8-9-102.00
8. TRANSFUSION Guido Belgiorno-Nettis AUS, 9-7-1-3-20-25-5-4-17-13-104.00
9. ESTATE MASTER Lisa & Martin Hill AUS, 8-18-10-7-15-21-9-10-5-10-113.00
10. TWT Marco Rodolfi ITA, 6-9-14-19-13-13-7-1-20-15-117.00
For more information about the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds including entry, crew lists and results please visit www.farr40worldchampionship.com